Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Too busy for a workplace wellness programme?

Published:Wednesday | March 20, 2019 | 12:08 AM
Workplace wellness
Workplace wellness

Time and time again in my clinical office or while volunteering at a health fair, I encounter individuals with superhigh blood pressure and urine dense with sugar, but they’re walking around looking otherwise fine.

The only thing standing between them and a massive stroke or heart attack or shut-down of their kidneys is time or a simple argument or altercation with someone.

Poor stress-management skills and lack of a proactive approach to preserving their health and well-being are responsible, at least in part.

I recall one person slumping into my chair as he told me about his job, things he had to do every day that would drive most of us insane.

PURPOSE

I was three years into my dream job in the United States when I realised that I didn’t want to be sitting in that same desk three more years down the line. I got up from my desk and resigned. It was not as sudden as it seemed as I had been in discussions with my chief about my vision for my career and life.

I had started my company, and now, I could put my full energy and focus behind it. It was in that moment that I chose wealth – discretionary time for myself grounded in self-awareness and security that I can do what I want, when I want, how I want, with respect for self and others and creating a legacy of meaningfully inspiring people to attain their full potential.

During my research career as a scientist working on discovering novel treatments against cancer and vaccines to prevent infectious diseases, this philosophy had also rung true for me.

I have seen loved ones get the news too late that they have cancer. I watched my grandmother try to stretch high blood pressure tablets, which she would send me to buy half a dozen at a time, making them last her two weeks. We lost her when I was in grade nine in high school, and I would stand as a medical intern at St Ann’s Bay Hospital during ward rounds on the very same spot I watched her take her final breaths from a massive stroke.

In the clinics, I had treated and sought to provide hope and encouragement to persons living with HIV, young and old. So, even as a researcher, I had as a compass the drive to help to alleviate human suffering and promote health and well-being.

It was Henry Ford, inventor and founder of Ford Motor Company, who said, “The person who does not get a certain satisfaction out of his or her day’s work is losing the best part of his or her pay” (adapted).

The alignment of drive and passion and the sense of purpose and meaning to one’s work is essential to fulfilment and achieving one’s potential.

WORKPLACE CULTURE AND HEALTH

We spend a significant proportion of our lives at work. Even in between jobs, we yearn to work because of a certain dignity, no matter how humble the task, that lifts our chin and puts purpose in our steps as we look to an expansive and bright horizon.

Workplace wellness is not a nice-to-have. Its very absence may be indicative of a fault with the culture of the organisation, like a faint or erratic pulse in a sick patient. Culture refers to the seen and unseen customs, symbols, and expectations that shape how people behave.

Workplace wellness is not a company marathon. It is not a gym or aerobics class. It is not an annual health screen. There are numerous companies and organisations in the public and private sector that are well-equipped with these elements but suffer from a disengaged workforce. Our experience at work influences how we behave at home and in our communities and vice versa.

Wellness means different things to different people, and this is why companies or organisations fail to realise their organisation’s true potential, or worse, foster a toxic culture that will usher in their organisation’s demise.

A healthy workplace culture promotes wellness, which is the empowerment of people to actualise their full potential by enabling the best version of themselves through informed choices that promote a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, and the mindfulness and resilience for maintaining and renewing balance.

A wellness culture fosters the growth of its team members, fosters innovation, and fosters loyalty of employees who will go above and beyond for the organisation and take the company’s mission as their own.

A wellness culture also prides itself in team members who ‘outgrow’ their place there and wish to move on to pursue their dreams and calling, with former team members and leaders taking special pride that those persons had once served there. Organisational culture sets the tone for employee behaviours, impacting their health and well-being and the general health of the company or entity as a whole.

WELLNESS CULTURE IS ABOUT LEADERSHIP

The importance of an endorsement of a workplace culture of wellness by the country’s highest officer with responsibility for health should not be taken lightly. The message is clear and implications far-reaching for the country, for companies, for public entities, for individuals and communities.

Recently at the ‘We Thrive at Work’ workplace wellness workshop hosted by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and Essential Medical Services Limited, our Minister of Health, Dr. Christopher Tufton, stated that “It is a lot more expensive, both to the person as well as to the corporate, to try and cure challenges after they have emerged. It is a lot cheaper … and in your best interest as corporate or an individual to deal with prevention.”

Wellness is proactive. At the level of the organisation, programmes that lack buy-in of leaders and senior managers of the company suffer not only from the lack of proper resourcing, but more importantly, from a lack of exemplary participation and inspiration from its leaders.

Importantly, as a business operator or executive at an organisation, you want to know, ‘is it going to cost money?’ and, ‘is it saving me money?’

Based on studies published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, companies on the Standard & Poor’s list that have even been recognised for their comprehensive workplace wellness programmes have higher dividends.

The return on investment (ROI) for wellness programmes ranges from US$1.52 to $3 for every dollar invested for organisations across a variety of industries. Workplace wellness is about corporate culture and its impact on the well-being of employees within the context of work and outside of it and makes good economic sense for organisations and whole societies.

According to Professor Ron Goetzel, vice-president of consulting and applied research at IBM Watson and director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, workplace wellness, understood correctly and embraced and engrained in an organisation’s culture, is defined as coordinated, comprehensive strategies with the central mission of promoting the health of workers and their families, with clearly articulated policies, leadership support, adequate resourcing, objectives-driven programming, employee involvement, ongoing evaluation, and innovation and that are sustained.

Creating a wellness culture in an organisation is not a top-down approach, but begins with engaging employees, capturing their aspirations and ideas about what it means to be well from the outset and in an ongoing manner.

A sensible approach involves devising a clear policy and programme in writing and supported by dedicated team members even if it’s not their sole function; implementation and ongoing iteration; and measurement and evaluation to see the impact on biophysical indicators, cost-effectiveness, productivity, and other social, emotional, and psychological outcomes.

Although an established science and field in developed societies, countries in the Caribbean and other developing societies have somewhat lagged, and there is a learning curve and balancing act for finding a language that can be understood by human resource teams, company leaders, health promotion specialists, insurers, and other stakeholders.

In this regard, for such as the recently held ‘We Thrive at Work’ and the ‘Occupational Health & Workplace Wellness Symposium’ slated for October 24-26, 2019 and hosted by Para Caribe Consulting Limited in partnership with public and private sectors are important for public education, establishing standards, and driving innovation in the field.

In 2017, Para Caribe Consulting hosted former Verizon Wireless Sales Executive Karin Hurt, author of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul, and co-author David Dye, here in Kingston for a well-received transformative leadership seminar targeting leaders in the health sector, including policymakers, hospital executives, clinical team leads, and health administrators.

Organisational wellness is grounded in sound leadership, and opportunities that seek to enhance leadership styles of health-sector leaders are essential for building the capacity of our health sector and promoting a culture of health for healthcare workers themselves, who are caring for others.

WHAT DOESN’T GET MEASURED, DOESN’T GET DONE!

Having a shared understanding of what constitutes an evidence-based wellness culture is essential to being able to measure it to justify continuity and ongoing support or needed changes.

A number of well-researched and established measurement tools exist, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Worksite Health Scorecard, and the Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard from the Health Enhancement Research Organisation (HERO). And these tools are FREE.

These tools comprised a number of questions, to be completed by one or more team members, and a score derived. The purpose of the scoring is to show a starting point that can then be reassessed periodically as the organisation makes changes and adjustments towards meeting articulated goals for their wellness programme.

Working with an independent occupational health or workplace-wellness consultant or firm provides a layer of objectivity and the dedicated attention required from proper data collection and analyses. Using these scoring systems and benchmarks, Caribbean countries may be eligible for globally recognised workplace wellness awards.

Examples of such award programmes include the HERO Award, Global Healthy Workplace Award, and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Corporate Health Achievement Award, to name a few.

Some of the prior awardees have even had researchers capture what their programme is doing and publishing their findings in respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

WE CAN ALL START TODAY

Workplace wellness goes beyond ad hoc company marathons and health fairs and is about positive leadership and a culture that supports employees and team members attaining their true potential. The alignment of purpose and finding meaning in one’s work translates into effective team members and strong organisations.

Anyone can start the process by engaging team members and putting pen to paper to articulate a vision of what it means to be well within and outside of your place of work.

A rapidly developing field, a growing number of professionals and non-profit resources are available to assist teams in conceptualising, implementing, and evaluating workplace wellness programmes.

Dr Yohann White is chief innovation officer at Para Caribe Consulting Medical Doctors. Email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com and yohann.white@caribewellness.com and on social media @CaribeWellness.